LOS ANGELES -- The oddsmakers may say that the TCU Horned Frogs are a slight favorite over the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. No. 3 TCU is ranked two spots higher than Wisconsin, after all.
But in many ways, TCU -- despite winning 35 games the past three years -- still carries an underdog's mentality.
"If you want to understand the emotion behind why TCU has won ballgames, you need to know where we came from," head coach Gary Patterson said in Friday's coaches' news conference. "If you know where we came from, you understand why we play with a chip on our shoulder."
Patterson arrived at the school in 1998 as a defensive coordinator and took over as head coach for the 2001 season. TCU was winning games at the time but hardly had the trappings of a big-time program.
"We had to walk a mile and a half to the practice field," Patterson said. "We had to pull partitions in an old weight room to have meetings. We didn't have really any office space. We didn't have an indoor [practice facility], we didn't have practice fields."
Thanks in large part to Patterson's success, the program has come a long way. The school recently raised $130 million for complete stadium renovations, a new locker room and new training room. TCU is in its second straight BCS game and is entering the Big East in 2012. Patterson said the football team's high profile has helped increase the number of out-of-state applications for admission, and that attendance has gone up from about 17,000 to around 43,000 per game.
But the Horned Frogs still operate in the shadows of the Texas Longhorns and Dallas Cowboys, not to mention Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and even LSU, which recruits heavily in the Lone Star State. They kind of like that underdog role, which is why the players and coaches don't seem at all intimidated going up against the Big Ten co-champs or the much bigger Wisconsin offensive linemen.
"Since we started at TCU, everybody's been bigger and faster," Patterson said. "We've been doing this a long time. We're 15-3 against BCS opponents. I think we're the last team to beat Oklahoma in Norman. So this won't be our first rodeo."
Much of the talk has centered around Patterson's top-ranked defense against that powerful Wisconsin offense. But Patterson said the other side -- his offense versus the Badgers 'D' -- might be more critical. He compared it to this year's Utah game, when the Horned Frogs got up big early and cruised. He thought his team was too tense offensively in last year's Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State, and he thinks it must get off to a much better start on Saturday.
Patterson will tell his team before the game to be loose and enjoy the ride. The Horned Frogs may technically be the favorites, but they're approaching this with their usual underdog spirit.
"After 10 years, we finally got to a point where all eyes of America are on them and getting the chance to prove what kind of program we have," he said. "To be able to say you won the Rose Bowl would be quite an accomplishment. It wouldn't be in a braggish way. It would be more of, hey, if you only knew where we came from."